As I’ve been talking to many of you and hearing your deepest prayer requests, I hear in the innermost parts of your heart that through this you do not want to lose your connection with the Lord. That as so many things appear to stand in the way of getting spiritually filled and feeling united with Him and others, I hear an underlying worry of “What if I fall away? What if I wander too far?” When I think about the times when I have feared this as well, I think what I’m really afraid of is, “What if I fall so deep into sin that I can’t get back out? What if I don’t have what I need to fight temptation like I normally would, and I get too far from God to come back?” I feel so vulnerable in the situation we are all in right now. Things that would normally only bother me a little, make me angry. And things that normally would just make me a little sad, make me weep. Or there are days that I just feel totally numb because I can’t let myself feel what it is I’m truly feeling. Our normal go-to defenses against lies of the enemy and protection over our spirit aren’t totally with us: being in community together face to face, literally watching the Lord work in each other’s lives, physically worshipping shoulder to shoulder. I can’t help but wonder, “How can we fight the temptation to fall back into old sins (of all kinds) in this context?”
There’s a lot that we’ve all heard in regards to fighting temptation and not falling into sin. Some of it I would probably agree with and some of it I don’t really believe anymore. I think overall, the biggest defense in fighting against temptation is our general perspective. How do we view God and ourselves in regards to sin? There’s a lot that is preached about sin that is so harmful and brings so much shame that is never from God which causes us to sin even more in a never-ending cycle. Take some time to truly think and picture in your mind the answer to these questions for yourself.
When you sin, where is God in that situation? What is He thinking and feeling? What does His face look like? What’s His body language? Writing this down will be SO beneficial to you right now, and then come back.
I think if you are anything like me, God is somewhere between totally absent, far away with his back turned, or standing with His arms crossed shaking his head/screaming and asking me how I’m going to get myself out of this mess. He’s definitely wondering how I’m going to prove myself yet again worthy of His time and attention. And I know the Gospel! That’s the craziest part. I KNOW God loves me, that He died for me, that He’ll never leave me. And STILL, if I truly stop and think about it, this is what He is doing. How? How is this possible that after 28 years of singing “Jesus loves me, this I know” I still have this image engraved in my mind? Because if I am totally honest with myself, I know this is how the enemy wants me to view God. This perspective is so efficient, beneficial, and helpful to him in keeping me trapped under the weight of my own sin. It’s a foolproof method, and it works like a charm. Because if this is the God I am supposed to devote my life to, to love unconditionally, to choose what He wants instead of what I want, then my motivation, desire, and drive to do so will last about 2 seconds. I can’t do it. I can’t promise to choose this version of God over myself for a lifetime. If that picture of God is anywhere in my heart, I will fail. Guaranteed. It doesn’t matter how much I pray or what verses I read, if there is even just a small part of me that believes that is where God is and what He is doing in regards to my sin, I’ve already lost. But the Good News is this: that picture is legitimately the opposite of the truth of our God and King. And if we focus on rewriting and correcting the false images of God we have in our minds and hearts (we have to do this daily/multiple times a day for it to work), freedom is shortly behind.
So where is God when we sin? Well the number one thing I can tell you is that fortunately or unfortunately, He’s right there. We often think that our sin is our mess and we are taught to clean up our own messes and based on how well we clean them up by ourselves, we can see how well we have performed. As purely motivated as the desire to clean up our own messes sounds, this is not impressive to God. If we can save ourselves, we can take pride in our own accomplishments. His heart is not overwhelmed or stirred by His children trying to fix themselves for His approval. If that’s the case, what did Jesus die for? We just went through Easter… what did Jesus have to go through all of that for if God is expecting us to fix ourselves and clean up our own messes? Or if we were actually capable of doing it ourselves? We’re not, and God is heartbroken when we try to. It denies the power of the cross.
All that being said, I want to talk about what God does to clean up your mess.
1. Jesus has already broken the power of the devil, who had the power of death. He offered a sacrifice (himself) that took away the sins (all sins forever) of everyone (you and me). “Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.” (Hebrews 2:14-18). Jesus is very, very, very familiar with our temptation. Every temptation that you have felt, Jesus felt, and he conquered that temptation. It’s not like he doesn’t know what we are feeling and experiencing. He knows it perfectly. And he resisted temptation in order to save us. So that when we are tempted, we have him to help us as someone who has been there. As a human. So when we are tempted and when we sin, he is right there with us to help and fight for us.
2. “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:14-16). Not only did Jesus save us from our sin, he UNDERSTANDS our weaknesses. Do you hear how different this is already in comparison? His understanding makes us able to come before the throne BOLDLY. That means confidently, shamelessly, bravely, and courageously. At any time. No matter what. There is nothing you could ever do or say that would remove your ability to come to the throne of God boldly. And his mercy and grace and help will meet us every time.
3. In the face of temptation, we are given everything we need from God to resist it. This is so hard to remember in the moment, as much as we believe it. The enemy does not want us to remember this. He wants us to think we have to fight the war on our own in order to please God. This. Is. A. Lie. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). There is no temptation that we can fight on our own, but we can win every battle with Christ’s strength. It’s not on us and our own strength to win. It is Him who gives us what we need.
4. God wants to carry us out of temptation and sin! Not only is He not standing there watching us squirm trying to figure out how to fight this on our own, not only is he giving us everything we need to fight, but he wants to carry us away! “You who love the Lord, hate evil! He preserves the souls of His saints; He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 97:10) He knows we are hurting. He knows hurt causes us to sin and sin causes us to hurt. I’ve talked to a lot of the girls about this, but being trapped in a stronghold of sin is like being trapped in a cage that is locked from the inside. Jesus will fight to get that cage open and carry you out kicking and screaming if he has to. He died to free you from those chains and he would do it over and over again. He will never stop pursuing you. Ever.
5. No matter how much we sin, sin does not have dominion over us. We are not under the law but under grace. (Romans 6:14). This is why we can get back up when we’ve fallen down. Under the law, I screw up once and I’m out. End of story. Under grace, God in His fullness is there to meet us each time. Not just sometimes, not just for certain sins. Always and for everything. Nothing in God or of God is lost when we sin. All of Him is there for us, and all He has for us is waiting. And it’s this grace that the enemy doesn’t want us to grasp, or think we are still under, or to understand, or to believe is as good as it sounds. Because when we really realize how good this grace is, that it is there for us no matter what, we are empowered to resist him. And he runs. “Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)
This truth of the gospel is so powerful, it changes lives in an instant. But thankfully God wants a day in, day out relationship with us, so it is good to remind ourselves of who He really is as often as we can. “Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). The full armor of God is made up of a lot of beautiful and powerful things, and studying it helps us truly see the line of defense we have in Christ. But through the power of prayer, the word of God, and our brothers and sisters in Christ, our minds are renewed in the true picture of God through which we are able to resist temptation and heal. “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word” (Psalm 119:9). Sin is just a repercussion or outward expression of inner hurt, of the part of us that God so badly wants to rush in with His love. When we get to the root of that broken image of God from past hurts that is causing deep pain, we’re able to attack sin at the core. Our sin is part of a bigger story, the story of God’s redemption in our lives that He will use to bring others to Christ. Everything will be used, every tear, every bad day, every season, to make up an amazing story of the power of Christ in your life. And this is true for everyone, which is why we can tell others and shoulder each other’s burdens. “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man… Resist the devil, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Corinthians 10:13, 1 Peter 5:9).
So pray, pray with the intensity of someone crying out to be saved from the deepest pit on Earth. Meditate on God’s word, let it wash over your mind and heart as it rights wrongs and strengthens and empowers you for the challenges of the day. Talk to each other. Tell each other where you feel like you are losing sight of the true image of God, and remind each other of who He really is. “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). And approach the throne of the Almighty King boldly by blasting this song right now. Remembering that one day we’ll get to sing this to Him in person together again, and it will be so so so so so so good.